I was an unhappy employee in the early 1990s, having outgrown quite many jobs that came my way. Mind you, I should be grateful, and I was. I was headhunted several times and landed really great jobs in top companies in financial services and professional services.
But there was something within me that kept me on edge.
It was only through time that I realized perhaps I was best as a project consultant, rather than a long-term employee in a company.
However, I had a long chat with a mentor, a former director at a large bank, who sat me down in a Chinese restaurant and told me point blank that I should at least try to stay in one job for 2 years for my own sake.
So, rather than simply quit like I did before, I stayed in my last job as the international marketing manager of a computer and peripherals company, for 2 years.
But I made up my mind that I would leave the corporate world and step into the unknown and edgy road of entrepreneurship thereafter.
The first business I founded was a graphic design business in the early 1990s. My design and fine art background (I was trained as a Chinese brush painter and was by then an experienced commercial medium-format photographer) was naturally the first thing I gravitated towards.
While many businesses then and now would have walked into a bank within the first 90 days to get a loan, or to beg or borrow funds from relatives and friends, I chose bootstrapping. I would still choose bootstrapping today, and readily educate any would-be entrepreneur to bootstrap rather than borrow.
Some entrepreneurs would probably rent a large space and turn it into a beautiful office, engage lots of employees, and have invariably a high burn rate.
I chose to instead “hide” in my parents’ shop in the shopping mall, and worked as “part-time” retail assistant whenever a retail customer walked into the shop, while tending to my client design projects otherwise. I also chose the lowest denominator in terms of equipment, a Apple Mac LC and a Newgen 400dpi laser printer, rather than choosing more expensive options.
My extensive print production background empowered me to be able to optimize designs to the lowest dpi (dots-per-inch) so that they produced well in print (whether magazines or newspapers) while avoiding lag times or problems due to overly large file sizes. This is a skill that is STILL sorely lacking in many young and older graphic designers today. Many still produce way too large files that choke at the production stage, or even at the design stage on the computer.
Obviously, within the first 90 days, times were hard, business was scarce, with lots of cold calling, whether knocking on doors, or making phone calls. Many executives slammed the doors on me, but I braved on.
In hindsight, I treasure every battle in the field, because as Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”.
So, if you are starting a new business, whether you are doing it for the very first time in your life, or have done many rounds, bootstrap, knock hard on doors, and keep going.